The Memory Keeper

This is a post I originally wrote last spring.  But with the holidays approaching and lots of family get-togethers on the calendar for many of us, I thought it was again timely to share it with you.

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I was watching the news last night as Diane Sawyer took us on a tour of Joplin, Missouri.  I cannot begin to imagine how that would feel and hope I never have to find out.  My heart breaks as I watch these people sift through the rubble that used to be their lives.

old wedding photo with daisies
My mother's mother on her wedding day. One of my favorite wedding photos. It inspires me.

As I’ve watched the news reports and they’ve shown people searching–searching for survivors, searching for bodies, searching for the bits and pieces of their lives.  But most frequently, it seems they’ve shown so many survivors searching for the same thing:  pictures.  Family photos, wedding photos, baby photos.  How excited was one searcher today as they showed her finding photos of first her daughter and then her son.

My mom and her parents--the only photo I have of my grandfather, who died when my mother was 10.

And it reminded me again of the power of pictures and why I do what I do.

The house in Kirksville, Missouri, my grandmother was born in. Supposedly, it's still there. I'd like to visit.

Whenever there is a disaster or a tragedy, it seems the first things we reach for (after our families, of course) are our photographs.  I have an emergency evacuation list in my house.  It comes from growing up in earthquake and wildfire country (also known as Southern California).  The first thing on the list is the animals.  The second is photographs.  I can replace almost everything else.  Books can be repurchased; clothing can be replaced; furniture is furniture; my photographs are priceless.  They are more than the pieces of paper they are printed on.  They are my history; they are the story of my family and my children and me.

Our last family portrait with my mother and her sister before my father died.

It never ceases to amaze me, the power of a photograph.  A few years ago an exhibit of the Pulitzer-prize winning photographs came to our local art museum and I couldn’t miss it.  I remember many of those photographs from my growing up years.  What power they have, what emotions they evoke, what memories return when we look at those pictures.

My father at the Vietnam Memorial (in the yellow shirt). The most moving part for me of our trip to DC was visiting here with him and finding names he knew on the wall.

And so I think of my own photographs.  The ones I have been privileged to make that have touched someone’s life, the times I have photographed someone who would never be photographed again.  I can think of no greater responsibility or honor than to be appointed the “keeper” of someone’s memories.

Everyone's favorite photo of my father-in-law.

I was privileged for a time to be a photographer with Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep.  I was unsure about it at first, but I thought about how much the photographs of my children mean to me, and those children are still here with me.  How much more precious they would be if they were all that I had of them.  And so while it’s been the hardest thing I’ve ever done, photographically anyway, it’s also been the best.  And when I see those photographs, infrequently though it is as I never share them with anyone but those families, I am reminded how blessed I am to have been given the gift of being a memory keeper.

My favorite--and last--portrait of my dad.

And then I think, too, of the photographs most precious to me.  The photographs of the people I love and the places I’ve been.  Those who are dear to me and no longer here, the reminders of who I once was and who I am now.  The photographs of those who came before, my grandparents, my great-grandparents and farther back, loved ones who I have never met and know only through their pictures and their stories.  How grateful I am for those pictures and those stories.

My oldest family photo. They are my 3rd great-grandparents.

One of my favorite aunts passed away a few years ago.  Last year, my cousins sent me a large box in the mail.  Imagine my delight when I opened it to find it filled with old family photographs and documents with stories of those family members.  Once again, I have been appointed the Memory Keeper.  And I am blessed.

These photographs are just a few of my family favorites and each has a particular meaning, which is why they are here.  Are you the memory keeper in your family?  Do you have a photograph that is especially meaningful?  I’d love to have you share it.  Please leave your stories, comments and feedback in the comment section below.

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4 thoughts on “The Memory Keeper

  • Pingback:True Miracles with Genealogy - Modern Molly Mormon

  • January 18, 2012 at 1:37 am
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    Loved this post, Molly. I have some wonderful old photographs too and treasure them. I keep requesting my extended family (my Dad is one of 15 children!) to write down their memories growing up – there are so many family jokes that need to be documented…However, they’re just too lazy 🙁 So I gather these stories and store them in my mind…perhaps I need to write them down someday.

    Reply
  • January 15, 2012 at 1:29 pm
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    I am a memory keeper. I think I was born that way. Last year I wrote about the first twenty years of my life and self published it with lots of pictures to illustrate my text and called it Growing Up In England, Recollections Of A Young Girl’s Childhood. Now I help others to write their life stories. Our stories, like our photographs are irreplacable once lost, when a loved one dies or succumbs to illness or dementia. I think of myself as a crusader for future generations giving voice to their plea ‘tell me your story’ before its to late. So treasure your photos, write about them, name the faces, explain where they were taken and why and tell the stories they invoke. Help us to remember you.

    Reply
    • January 16, 2012 at 1:12 pm
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      I agree. Words and pictures together are the most powerful stories. how wonderful that you have done this for yourself and are now helping others. If you are interested, I’d love to have you share your insights with us in a guest post.

      Reply

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